July school holidays are well and truly over. Back to the books and work.
With some great office support, we were lucky enough to escape the winter chill to the relative warmth of Dirk Hartog Island. Known as Wirruwanna in the local Malgana language, this is a relatively difficult place to access but well worth the effort.
It proved to be an epic adventure, with three families, two camper trailers and a dinghy all dragged to Western Australia’s most north westerly point before making the hair raising barge crossing to the remote national park of Dirk Hartog Island (named for a Dutch ship’s captain who left an embossed pewter plate as proof of his visit in 1616).
The 185km from the Overlander Roadhouse (importantly, the last stop for extra diesel – we had a full tank 138L plus a further 60L in jerry cans) to Steep Point was initially uneventful, until we hit the corrugations of the Edel Land National Park/Steep Point road.
Corrugations are great levellers (ironic as they anything but level!). If you have a loose bit of gear it will fall off. That simple.
Our first major casualty after 100km of teeth jarring unsealed road was the dinghy trailer. With heavy duty springs installed the morning before, it seems the U-bolts attaching the axle just weren’t up to the punishment. Amazingly 2 hours on the side of the track and we had managed to replace a sheared locator pin with a suitable tent peg, tie down strap and re-position the leaf springs and axle. To be fair, having an ex-navy helicopter mechanic as part of the team did make our MacGyver-esque feat possible.
We still had the toughest part of the track to go, the last 40km being soft sand hills, beach and more corrugations.
We rolled into our campsite at Shelter Bay later that night. Hungry and ready to hit our swags.
With tales of the 4WD that had been unceremoniously dumped from the barge into the ocean the day before we all successfully made the early morning crossing of the South Passage to Cape Ransonnet, paying careful attention to the barge skipper’s directions whilst embarking and disembarking! The only glitch was the dinghy trailer again, bogged in deep sand on narrow tyres.
Setting up camp at Salty’s Campsite was fantastic. Perfectly perched above the ocean facing north we orientated our camper trailers to maximize sunrise and ocean views. Six teenagers set their swags up like circled wagons. Adults definitely not welcome in the inner circle! The fire crackled that night and the adults may have had a celebratory rum.
The camp-site was not the most challenging on the island. We normally pride ourselves on our extreme off-grid forays but this was much more civilised. Hot showers, toilets and a basic camp kitchen! The real kicker was being able to have sunset drinks (jug of Aperol Spritz, anyone?) and morning barista made coffees (and cheaper than Perth prices!).
The following days were filled with simple adventures, driving to exotically named locales like Louisa Bay, Mystery Beach, Quoin Head and Sunday Bay. Fishing, snorkeling and beach-combing for hours. We saw sea snakes, whales, sharks, dolphins, octopus, bream, snapper, coral, crabs and more. We drove on sweeping moonscapes of sand dunes and inched along the unforgiving Mars-like rocky terrain of the spectacular west-coast. Giant cliff faces butting heads with the phenomenal power of the Indian Ocean. Blowholes, beaches, waves and protected bays. Just so much to see.
The environment is punishing with the salt air eating any metal left exposed to the elements. Pastoral ruins dot the Island testament to the past battle to eek a living from this land, growing wool. July weather was just bearable, a comfortable 26-28 degrees, with night-time lows of 16 degrees.
Halfway up the Island an adventurous sort had abandoned his Mercedes SUV. Propped on blocks. Three flats. The low profile tyres, no match for the aggressive limestone rocks set into the tracks. This place is a long way from anywhere and if you don’t have the right gear – Dirk Hartog Island does not take prisoners. Apparently the owner had flown out by light plane to Denham and was en-route back to Perth to presumably lick his wounds and tally up the cost of recovering his car.
Dirk Hartog is a history buff’s nirvana. Indigenous inhabitation, shipwrecks, Dutch and French visitors from the 1600’s, the lighthouse, a rich pastoral history and so much more!
We ate our fill of fat Shark bay sand whiting and flathead, and cursed the ones that got away. If I can give you a tip, take heavier land based gear to catch the snapper, bream and blue bone that frequent the shallow island waters.
Coming home we had to make that barge trip again. This time early in the morning, in the dark. We were endeavouring to beat the coming rain which was forecast to close roads and potentially maroon us at Steep Point. Driving off a soft beach in low 4WD onto a moving barge in the dark is fun, right? Well mostly, except for the plague of mosquitoes that descended upon us as we fished overnight. And the discovery that another of the cars was about to lose its flash ARB bull-bar as the bolts had rattled out (more MacGyvering!).
I can say the kids were genuinely sad to leave the feral freedom of Dirk Hartog and in no rush to plug back into their virtually connected lives. They will deny this.
The Wardle family were consummate hosts. Busy running tourists across all aspects of their business. From their fully catered Eco Lodge Accommodation (we were lucky enough to stay here in January – add it to your list!) to their management of the barge and camp bookings in the National Park.
*As a footnote you can get diesel on the Island if you grossly miscalculate, but at $3.30/L it’s better to be organised!
As a family trip this Dirk Hartog Island is without peer.
Be prepared. A decent 4WD, well maintained and a little bit of research ensures this place is an exciting and engaging holiday. It is a truly wild space made accessible and demands respect.